Kobe Bean Bryant has always been compared to the unquestioned GOAT Michael Jordan throughout his career, Kobe has even admitted to basing most of his game off of His Airness, but what if the two managed to play on the same team, what would happen?
Well Washington Wizards' fans, close your eyes for a moment, because that hypothetical situation almost became a reality in 2003-04, as Bryant wanted to get away from Los Angeles, and join up with his idol and mentor Jordan in DC.
“That’s true,” Bryant confirmed in 2015. “A long time ago? Yeah.”
Unfortunately for Washington fans, and NBA fans as a whole, we never got to see this dream pairing come true, as then-Wizards owner Abe Pollin parted ways with Jordan in 2003, a year before Kobe became a free agent.
Kobe states that the biggest reason he wanted out from LA was that of his ongoing feud with teammate and star bigman Shaquille O'Neal, and a particular moment when Shaq likened him to former teammate Penny Hardaway.
“The challenge had been thrown down upon me, of not being able to win without Shaq. A public challenge never really bothered me too much, but he made a couple of comments as well. I think he called me Penny Hardaway Part 2 or something like that. So that’s what [ticked] me off,” Bryant said. “Then it was like, ‘Listen, you know the step back that I took to help us win championships. Let’s not get [expletive] confused. I can dominate on my own. I decided to stay here and win championships and sacrifice MVPs and scoring titles and all that stuff.’ So once that was said, it was like a line in the sand now.”
Bryant also mentioned how he and Jordan had connected at the 1998 All-Star weekend in New York.
“It’s been ongoing. He’s always been there since we played in ’98 [at the All-Star Game in New York],” Bryant said of Jordan. “When I first came into the league, Michael was terrifying to everybody. Everybody was really afraid of the guy. Like really, deathly afraid of him. I never really understood that and I was the one that was willing to challenge and learn from him and wasn’t afraid to call him and ask him questions. He was really open and spoke to me a lot and helped me a lot.”
If you didn't know, after Michael Jordan retired in 1998, he teamed up with Wizards then-minority owner Ted Leonsis and assumed the role of president of basketball operations for one and a half seasons. According to two people with knowledge of the goings on in the Wizards organisation, after Jordan decided to sell his minority ownership stake to resume his playing career with the Wizards, Kobe Bryant informed him several times he wanted to play for the Wizards, under the assumption that Jordan would return to the front office once his playing days were over, therefore letting Kobe play under Jordan, and learning all that he could from the greatest to ever lace them up.
“I’ve always been very big on having mentors, on having muses and I’ve been really, really big on that,” Bryant said. “Being around guys who have done it before and done it at a high level and always tried to pick their brains and always tried to absorb knowledge. Obviously, being in that situation [with the Wizards], it would’ve helped having to be around him every day and so on.”“I’ve always been very big on having mentors, on having muses and I’ve been really, really big on that,” Bryant said. “Being around guys who have done it before and done it at a high level and always tried to pick their brains and always tried to absorb knowledge. Obviously, being in that situation [with the Wizards], it would’ve helped having to be around him every day and so on.”
Unfortunately for Kobe, MJ never returned to the Wizards front office. So even if the Black Mamba did decide to part ways with the Lakers and move to DC, his main reason for leaving wouldn't have mattered, and who knows how his career would've panned out.
But could you imagine what would've happened if Kobe did leave in 2004, and Jordan was still with the team? A 26-year old Kobe, learning everything about the game from a recently retired Jordan. Maybe he would've been able to lead them to a couple of championships, their first since 1978.
But alas, we'll never know.